Rob Brezsny was primping in the restroom of a Roy Rogers restaurant in Chapel Hill when it happened. Even in 1977, you didn’t try to talk your girlfriend into moving to the hippie heaven known as Santa Cruz, Calif., without at least finger-combing your hair first. But at that fateful moment the young Brezsny, readying for the big talk with the lovely Babushka, detected a message from the universe in some graffiti inscribed under the towel dispenser.
“I got Santa Cruzified and Californicated and it felt like paradise,” it said. And under that, in smaller print: “You know you’ll never become the artist you were meant to be until you come live in Santa Cruz.”
Coincidence? Not bloody likely! Any doubts Brezsny had about leaving North Carolina vanished in an instant.
“A jolt of kundalini zipped through me,” he writes in his new book, Pronoia (Frog, Ltd., 2005). “It had become increasingly clear to me that my aspirations to be a poet and musician with an inspirational effect on my community were doomed to chronic frustration as long as I resided in the deep South, even in a university town like Chapel Hill. Here I would never be any more than a weirdo, a cross between a village idiot and a marginally entertaining monstrosity.
“In that moment, my fate gelled.”
Within weeks, Brezsny and Babushka had left North Carolina and landed in Santa Cruz. There Brezsny played gigs, read his poetry at cafes and made a chapbook; his life as a consciousness-raising troubadour seemed to be off to a good start. He was even poor — really poor. But then he spied an ad in the weekly newspaper Good Times seeking an astrology columnist.
At first, Brezsny hesitated. At Goddard College, he’d studied astrology as a system of cosmology that bore no resemblance to the pap served up by the few astrology columns then in existence. But the money…
“My attitude was, ‘It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it,'” he says now. And thus was born an accidental career that eventually outlasted all his other passions — even his single-minded pursuit of rock stardom.
These days, most folks familiar with Brezsny know him as the irrepressible voice of Free Will Astrology, the strangely literate and entertaining column that runs in 130 weekly newspapers nationwide. In more than 27 years, Brezsny has never missed a deadline. And die-hard fans say he rarely misses the mark.
I should warn readers here that my journalistic objectivity on this subject is zilch. A Virgo who’s a rabid fan of the column, I often check it out online on Tuesday night, in the first hours following its release, so I won’t have to wait until Wednesday. I read it because it gives me hope and makes me think. It’s a shot of wheat grass, a snort of eucalyptus, a plunge in the freezing sea. I even proselytize — and successfully, at that. The recurring comment I hear from happy converts is: “He nails it every time! How does he do it?”
I asked Brezsny about this on a walk we took one day last month. He lives in a wood-shingled house on a suburban street in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. The street dead-ends at a hilly park marked by the dry, golden grasses of California. It was midday, hot and sere, and we trudged up the chalky trail till we reached the shade of one of the tough, generous oak trees studding the hills.
“I think I’m in a feedback loop with my audience,” Brezsny replied to my fan-girl question about why his horoscopes are so good. “It doesn’t happen at a conscious level, but it’s like I’m being trained by the people who read me, whether in comments like this, directly, or psychically. It’s no exaggeration; it’s no poetic metaphor. There’s some way in which we’re collaborating on this.”
As he spoke, I studied Brezsny, trying to reconcile the notion I’d had of him from reading his column with the real person sitting now cross-legged next to me under the oak tree. I’d always pictured him as a sort of Weird Al Yankovic: crazy hair, zany wit, boisterous energy, tenor voice. A certain cartoonishness about the column probably contributed to that: Brezsny’s playfulness shows up in phrases like “fiercely generous” and “thrilling schemes” and in advice to do things like buy a bull-penis walking stick and use it on a stroll to the corner store to ward off stress-induced breakdown.
But the guy who’d answered the door when I knocked 45 minutes earlier was serene, respectful and reserved. I’d half expected the standard New Age hug; instead I was confronted with a keen intellect and a deep quiet. Brezsny is tall but slender, with the coiled energy of someone who does a lot of yoga. He listens attentively, speaks in a resonant baritone, and occasionally laughs. He has a mass of graying hair and large, beautiful hands.